The Future of the Headwaters

Sep 22, 2016 Environment

Photo Credit: Taber Andrew Bain (Flickr)

In a time when water shortage is a growing problem in the United States and across the globe, our region actually has an abundance of water. In fact, water is often considered our region’s greatest asset. 

However, according to Kathy Knauer, the executive producer of The Allegheny Front, an award-winning public radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania airing on WESA in Pittsburgh and on stations throughout the region, the future of the region’s water resources is unclear.

“While this region has the advantage of reliable and plentiful water, there is no coordinated effort to manage our water resources for future threats,” explains Knauer. “Water experts and scientists are concerned that the Ohio River and its watersheds are vulnerable as climate change and a changing industrial base bring new demands for water.”

“And while the region boasts of having abundant water, the value of our water — the economic, recreational and health benefits it could provide — is being limited by its quality,” Knauer continues. She points out that current water quality problems in the Ohio River watershed — algal blooms, coal mine drainage, sewer overflows, chemical spills and flooding — are impacting communities throughout the region. 

To bring attention to the issues of management and sustainable use of the region’s water, The Allegheny Front, is launching a new radio series in partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The series will focus on the headwaters region of the Ohio River through to the Panhandle of West Virginia, including the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Reporters from The Allegheny Front and West Virginia Public Broadcasting worked with a committee of scientists and experts, some from the Power of 32 Regional Headwaters Resource Committee, to identify topics for the 10 shows in the series. Topics are still being finalized, but will address water management, agriculture, riverfront development and climate change.

Knauer quickly points out a number of questions to be addressed in the series. Should the Ohio River have a basin commission that can manage it as a system versus individual projects? What is the region’s future going to look like especially as climate change impacts all of the country’s water resources?  What economic development projects should we be trying to attract knowing that water resources will become more important in the future?  How are we dealing with legacy water pollution problems?

Knauer believes there is a complacency around water resources. “The Upper Ohio River is an untapped resource. And while we have legacy problems of sewage and mine drainage, we don’t have the problems like out West where water is so precious that it’s managed to every drop,” she says. “Here, there is little movement to manage and market our water. It just seems to be on the back burner, and no one seems to be focusing on future water issues.”

Knauer hopes the new series will change that.

“Our main objective,” says Knauer, “is to inform our audiences of these issues — to bring them to the forefront of the conversation around the future of this region.”

The series will include multimedia reporting such as mapping and expand with podcasts on some of the issues. 

Knauer says that the plan is to also engage people beyond the radio audience with a series of public meetings. 

The series, which is funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, is scheduled to launch in September and will run through the end of the year on 90.5 WESA and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.